My Name is Sarah R, I am a part of the Voyagers Microcampus group. On March 10th, 2018, 15 other students and I came to Xizhou for 28 days. Before arriving in Xizhou, all of us had to choose a topic of high personal interest to learn more about in Xizhou. We all were given a list of possible project topics, and we had to narrow down the list and choose one topic. I chose the topic of Bamboo Weaving.
I chose this topic because it seemed really interesting to me. I love seeing how different products are made and thought it would be cool to see how baskets were made from bamboo to a product in a store. I love doing crafts and different hands-on art projects, so I was really excited about the thought of possibly making my own basket.
Before coming to Microcampus, I mostly used websites about bamboo weaving and previous Microcampus students for my sources. After arriving in Xizhou, I talked to lots of store owners that were selling bamboo woven products. I also talked to Mr. Li who used to be a basket weaver but can no longer weave due to his bad eyesight. Mr. Wang and his daughter were also really helpful sources because they taught me to bamboo weave. I chose these sources because the websites gave me lots of background information. And talking to members of the Xizhou allowed me to know more first-hand information about their perspectives of bamboo weaving.
Before arriving in Xizhou I came up with my 10 big questions in Phase 1. I had come up with questions mostly about the making of a basket, bamboo, and different bamboo woven products. After I arrived in Xizhou and started doing field work, I found out that the questions I came up with were too specific, and I found that some of my questions were completely useless and some of them made no sense, so I changed some of them to fit better with what I was trying to learn.
In order to make it in Xizhou as a basket weaver, one must consider the gathering of materials, the making of the basket, and the selling of the basket.
Sharing My Learning:
To share my learning, I have created a video which can be seen here.
Working on my inquiry project has left me with countless takeaways. I have learned so much about my work ethic and the community around me. Working on my inquiry project has taught me to stick to a plan and use my time wisely. I know how to plan ahead for my work, stay organized, and to mono-task. I have learned that it is important to plan ahead so I know what I have to do ahead of time and this has helped me stay organized. Having to make connections for my inquiry project work has allowed me to meet a wide variety of people, as well as step outside of my comfort zone. I have learned that just going up and talking with a stranger can create friendships that will last a lifetime. Before leaving for Microcampus I would have never guessed that I would have grown so much as a person from working on my inquiry project of bamboo weaving. What I have learned will stick with me when I go back to Shanghai and it will stick me as I grow older.
Throughout my inquiry project journey, my topic did not change much. Before coming to Xizhou I wanted to focus on how the basket was made, but as I began my field research I learned about making a basket and also some of the economics of selling bamboo products. I am not sure why I did not change my topic more, but I think it is because I was constantly learning more and more about various aspects of bamboo weaving, and I was never bored of going out to make connections with store owners as well as basket weavers. I really enjoyed the topic that I had chosen and I am glad that I stuck with the topic of bamboo weaving even when I encountered some ups and downs related to my topic.
While doing research, the most difficult part was when I first went out for field work to start making connections. It was really awkward at first when I would go up to a store and say hi someone. It was awkward because first of all, my tones in Chinese are not great so sometimes when I would talk to someone they would not understand what I was saying. It was also awkward because I am not great at Chinese so when I would go out for teacher support, the teacher helping me would say the questions I asked in Chinese after I had said them in English; sometimes the store owners would look at me weirdly when I said the questions in English. As I kept going out and making connections, it was easier and easier, and I was more comfortable speaking Chinese as well as meeting new people.
Throughout the process of working on my inquiry project, I did have a few "a-ha" moments. Before meeting Mr. Wang I had never seen a basket being woven (other than in a video) and it was really cool to be able to watch Mr. Wang and his family work together to make baskets. The major "a-ha" moment that I had was one day when I was at Mr. Wang's house working on one of his baskets. This day Mr. Wang was not home but his daughter and her husband were home. I was sitting on the stool weaving, while Mr. Wang's daughter was sitting making the bases of the baskets, and Mr. Wangs son in law was sitting next to me finishing some of the tops to the baskets. It was then when I realized that I created a friendship with these people, and they were letting me into their lives and they let me see what it was like to be a basket weaver, and they let me help them do their work. They trusted me enough that they allowed me to help make the baskets, and it was a really cool feeling to know that I was trusted to work with them.
Before coming to Xizhou, I knew barely anything about bamboo baskets, but throughout Microcampus I have learned so much more about my bamboo weaving than I had ever hoped to. In Shanghai, I had never really seen many bamboo woven products, and I did not know how much time and effort was put into each basket or product made. I knew very little about the steps to make a basket, and what different bamboo products are used for. But in Xizhou, I learned everything I had hoped to learn plus more. I was able to understand what it took to make a basket as well as the backstory behind the different bamboo woven products. I now understand the challenges that bamboo weavers face to make their products, and how much energy and devotion is put into each and every basket.
Having the topic of bamboo weaving allowed me to interact with the community in lots of different ways. First off, I have met lots of incredible people that have provided me with lots of insight about what it is like to either sell or make bamboo products. I have met Mr. Wang and his family who live in He Yi Cheng village, and they have all been so kind and friendly to me, and they have taught me so much. I have met many members of the Xizhou village, and even after talking with them about bamboo weaving, I have been able to go back and talk to them about my life and their life. Because my inquiry topic requires me to meet different people that sell or make bamboo products, this has allowed me to be me more comfortable with talking to strangers. This skill has helped me know other people like Nai Nai and Jie Jie who make tie-dye.
Choosing the inquiry project of bamboo weaving has not only helped me understand the topic and the community better, it has also helped me understand myself better as a person. I have learned that I am more willing to leave my comfort zone now. I know this because I am willing to go up and talk with strangers, and I am willing to try new foods and try new things. Back in Shanghai, I would not be comfortable trying to talk to strangers on the streets or try activities that I am not used to. But Microcampus has pushed me as a person and taught me that it is okay to be uncomfortable sometimes. My inquiry topic has allowed me to practice leaving my comfort zone, and it has allowed me to try many new things.
This project has taught me a great deal about myself as a learner. I have learned that I need to set a schedule for myself to help me stay on task. Setting a schedule has helped me stay organized and it has helped me complete my work. I have also learned that I need to only focus on one task at a time, focusing on one task allows me to complete the task to the best of my ability. Before coming on Microcampus, I would multitask, and I thought that it made me complete my work faster and better, but it actually distracted me from doing my work properly.
If I could go back to the beginning of my Microcampus journey, I would give myself multiple pieces of advice. First, I would tell my self to take lots and lots of photos, I would tell myself that even if I think photos are unnecessary I should take them anyway because I may need them at some point. Also, I should keep my photos and work organized so everything is easy to find later. This would have been very beneficial for me because then I would know exactly where everything is instead of having to spend ten minutes just to find one photo.
If someone were to continue my project of bamboo weaving, I think it would be really interesting to focus in on one part of the whole bamboo weaving process. I would focus in on either the gathering of materials and preparing to make a basket, the actual process of making the basket, or the economics of the basket. It would also be interesting to focus in on one part of the weaving process, for example, focusing in on the weaving of the sides and asking questions like, "how has the technique of weaving the sides changed over time" or "are different ways to weave the sides depending on the different baskets?"
This phenomenal experience would never have been possible without the help of so many different people. First, I would like to thank Mr. T and Ms. Mai for organizing this trip and bringing me and 15 other Voyagers to Xizhou. They have been so patient with all of us and they have pushed us to do our best work. Next, I would like to thank Mr. Chen and Ms. B for helping all of the Voyagers with 3-5's, helping us with fieldwork, and doing all of the behind the scene work to arrange different outings. I would like to thank the Linden Centre staff for cooking and keeping Yangzhouran clean. I would also like to thank the Wang family for allowing me to come to their house and work with them. I thank the community of Xizhou for accepting me and being so kind to me and giving me information about bamboo weaving. Lastly, I would like to thank the Voyagers for making this experience incredible, this group has pushed me to do my best work.
Microcampus has been a spectacular experience that I will always remember. I have learned so much on this 28-day adventure. Microcampus has pushed me to be the best student, learner, and community member that I can be. I will always remember the memories that I have made on this truly life-changing experience.